In 2014, Richmond gave California-based Stone Brewing Co. a sweetheart deal including $23 million in cut-rate financing to build a brewery. That was an unfair and unnecessary subsidy when you consider the strength of Richmond’s restaurant and craft brewery scene. With 32 breweries and the largest per capita number of craft breweries and restaurants in the nation, our tax dollars could’ve been better spent.
A second part of the deal involves another $8 million to finance Stone’s development of a restaurant on the site of the Intermediate Terminal on the condition that this building be renovated. Now, Stone is claiming that the renovation costs are too high and is asking the city to allow it to demolish the landmark and build something less than half its size on the site but with an even higher price tag. To make matters worse for taxpayers, the city is giving Stone an easement on a very desirable 1-acre waterfront parcel in front of the building, essentially privatizing public property.
If this scheme sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve heard it all before with the Redskins-Bon Secours backroom deal. That 2012 agreement leased the historic Westhampton School property to the hospital group for 60 years at only $5,000 per year with a provision that the school buildings would be saved. Guess what? Bon Secours abandoned those plans when, like Stone Brewing, they figured it would be cheaper and easier to demolish and build new.
The Intermediate Terminal, like Westhampton School, is a landmark that helps to define our city and understand history. In the case of our Intermediate Terminal Building, it is the last commercial vestige of a once-thriving maritime community. It allows us to tell the story of the Port of Rocketts, one of the largest inland ports in colonial America, which later served as the Confederate Naval Yard. This building is it. If we lose the Intermediate Terminal, we will lose the last visible link to that storied past.
The troubling pattern of giving away public property and manufacturing false claims to justify the demolition of historic buildings can’t be allowed to continue. We have an alternative. Jerry Cable, owner of the Tobacco Co. and a pioneer in the renaissance of downtown Richmond, is offering to buy the Intermediate Terminal, preserve and renovate it with his own money — not ours. He has a 40-year record in the restaurant business and with renovating historic buildings. Why not consider his offer or put the property out for bid to see that taxpayers get the best possible deal?
Both the existing brewery and the proposed restaurant and beer garden are on land controlled by the Economic Development Authority, a subdivision of the city, which does not pay real estate taxes. Property owners pay taxes. Tenants, such as Stone, do not. Because the authority controls these parcels, they pay no real estate taxes and, therefore, can offer Stone advantageous terms unavailable to a private owner. Compare the number of years when Stone pays no real estate taxes to what a private owner would pay and you’ll see what a large give-away this is.
I’m asking that you join the Friends of Intermediate Terminal in urging City Council to delay an upcoming vote Nov. 13 that could cost us not only an important landmark, but millions of your tax dollars. I’m asking that you imagine how we might better spend $8 million.
Even if you like Stone’s proposal, you should ask the city to delay any vote until certain important questions are answered, such as:
Is this public financing a loan or a grant?
What is the role of the community in how this important site is developed? For instance, will we have a voice in height or noise restrictions?
What are the terms of the easement?
Is it true that at the end of the lease, Stone can purchase the building and the land?
How much in real estate tax revenue will the city forfeit if Stone is given the building and leases the land? Remember, no real estate taxes will have been paid for decades on either of Stone’s sites.
For what exactly are the taxpayers on the hook if Stone defaults on its obligations?
Are we being asked to pay for demolition costs in addition to legal and lobbying fees?
Why give anyone a landmark to destroy when a developer will to pay us to preserve it? S
Jennie Dotts, a preservationist, held positions at Historic Richmond Foundation and Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods. Her current efforts, as a real-estate agent with Virginia Properties, are focused on educating the public about the importance of historic properties and matching them with responsible new stewards.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.